Ride The Lightning
Elektra Records, 1984
REVIEW BY: Scott Floman
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/24/1997
When my friend informed me in 1985 that this was the heaviest band on the planet, my introduction to Metallica was the pretty guitars that open "Fight Fire With Fire." I was taken aback, but it didn't take long before my fears were quieted. A mere 40 seconds later an explosively fast flurry of guitar riffing and piston-like drumming deafened my room. Memorable though this thrash number is, it's the weakest tune on the album, which stands tall as one of the greatest rock albums of any type ever recorded.
Though Metallica's debut, Kill 'Em All, had showcased a speed and musical dexterity that was unprecedented in heavy metal history, it nevertheless pales in comparison to Ride The Lightning, which was the next logical step. This album took heavy metal to previously unscaled heights, as it was unbelievably heavy and powerful yet still listenable. Despite their bludgeoning force, the band finds room for melody within their blazingly cathartic guitar crunch on songs such as the title track and "Escape," a catchy song that would've fit well beside later hits such as "Enter Sandman."
The music on Ride The Lightning is extremely complex, played by highly skilled musicians, while the lyrics are intelligent if relentlessly gloomy. What really separates this album from its predecessor is the superior songwriting and the improved vocals of James Hetfield, who sings rather than just screeching on every song, and whose voice has gained authority and menace. In addition, though "Trapped Under Ice" rages with a mindless fury, on several of the songs Metallica manages to slow the tempo while remaining true to their fierce vision, resulting in a more varied album. Even "The Call Of Ktulu," a repetitive instrumental clocking in at 8:54, holds the listener's attention throughout due to some hypnotic riffing.
Then there's what my friends and I always reverently referred to as "The Big Three." The blistering "For Whom The Bell Tolls," the Passover epic "Creeping Death," and the suicide anthem "Fade To Black," a dirge that is perhaps the ultimate masterpiece of teenage angst, are all time metal classics. Metallica never topped these three songs, and they remain concert favorites to this day, as anyone who has ever shouted "DIE" during "Creeping Death" can attest.
The band's pummeling performances must be mentioned, as Kirk Hammett and Hetfield's lightning fast yet precise guitar playing, Cliff Burton's authoritative bass, and Lars Ulrich's pulverizing drumming simply has to be heard to be believed. Their peerless performances help make Ride The Lightning a cornerstone of any heavy metal collection.